Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Grass is Back!

Spring has arrived here at Early Bird Ranch.  I know that we passed the calendar date for the first day of Spring--it's a memorable day for me, since it's the day I went into labor with Kevin Jr.  But there's the calendar date, and then there's the unconscious knowledge that the seasons are changing.  This year, they coincided pretty well.

For me, Spring has arrived when the grass begins to grow again.  It greens up and almost overnight seems to go from hunkering down for winter storms and cold snaps to reaching mightily for the sun.  It means we'll probably see cows at the house soon, since there's something for them to eat!  It means we'll soon have just-fledged young chickens out stretching their legs and grazing, and happy hens clucking about making mazes in the grass (hopefully NOT hiding eggs--last year's Easter spent on a real egg hunt was enough for me).

This year we have a new way to enjoy the growth of grass--through Kevi's eyes.  He's finally past the obsession with putting everything in his mouth, so I feel comfortable setting him on the ground outside.  We still mostly do chores in the jogging stroller, which he thinks is a great way to tour the farm, but I decided to let him explore the new grass while I put up one of our electric nets that will soon house chickens.  He was delighted by the new environment, as you can see.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

New Blog Location

Hello Everyone!

As part of our new changes for 2013 we have refurbished the website and moved the blog there (with a new post!).  This little Blogger page has been good to us, but we feel very excited about our snazzy new website.  Please check out the new site when you can and give us your feedback.  The address, as you likely know is:  If you have any trouble finding it or the blog please let us know as that would be quite good to know before the season gets going again and there are literally thousands of animals to care for.


Friday, January 11, 2013

"Let The Animals Do the Work"

This is really more of a note than a blog post, but I think it's worth sharing.  One of Joel Salatin's favorite concepts is to "let the animals do the work."  In practice, at Polyface and at Early Bird Ranch this typically means things like hens following cows and reducing fly load by scratching through cow patties to eat the larva.  Instead of having to apply some kind of fly deterent to the cows, we let the hens do that service, saving Joel or the folks at LeftCoast GrassFed a little work.

Today I saw a great example here at the house, though. Kevin, Brooks, and I have been working hard clearing compost out of the brooders and dumping it in wheelbarrow piles in the garden.  I just looked out the window to discover that some rogue hens (who refuse to sleep in the Eggmobile and are generally a pain in the butt) are trying to redeem themselves by scratching the compost evenly through the garden soil.  In the picture, you can see the piles we left, and how they're spreading it in an even layer, saving us the time and energy of raking it out ourselves. So, although I grumble to say it... Thank you rogue chickens!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Execution Year

What a year!

2012 was fraught with challenges, and yet we are still standing. I would prefer not to go into too much detail as not all of the mistakes or accidents were acts of god, but after a couple of record breaking storms,  a few broken structures, and unprecedented turkey mortality we are ready for a new year.

Of course, the feather in our cap is that Kevi Jr has been thriving, but we are also thrilled that the business is still afloat and growing (though modestly).

Please ignore all the STUFF in our lives!
2013 will be the first year we will actually just farm. There are no new babies on the way or surprise moves planned. It is just a year to focus on efficiency and fine tuning. The folks on TomKat told us in the banking world this is called an "execution year."  The name just drips optimism, but it really does offer us a lot of hope. We are coming up on 3 years of operating our own business, and there are a number of things we've left on the back burner (like the blog) while we've tried to keep our heads above water and our animals happy.

This year we are looking forward to full participation in our new Good Eggs "Webstand". The  platform is everything we could wish for and the company that started it really appears to care about how well they are aiding farmers. You can see it at It's very cool.

We are also planning to expand our pig enterprise in 2013. The demand for and reviews of these forest raised beauties has been great and their effect on the forest quite positive. The big hurdle is in how to scale the operation properly, but it is certainly worth doing. We are excited too because once we have a large enough and consistent enough supply we can approach folks like Chipotle and New Leaf. We are also hoping to find a charcuterie so we can begin selling cured meats that truly showcase the deep flavors that our style of production can imbue.

The last major change we are looking to make will be focusing on record keeping and organization.  Not as interesting, perhaps, as pigs, but certainly important to the business.  So far, we've kept a minimum of records for our own use, but we want to have easy-to-understand numbers on feed consumption, mortality, sales, and weather in digital formats!  With our combined experience using Excel for data analysis, this should be no problem!

And now, because this post sorely lacks pictures... here's the eggmobile and its hens as the sun rises over the hills of TomKat Ranch!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

We're back.  I promise!  And although we're a little late, I thought we could relaunch the Early Bird Ranch blog with a posting of things we are thankful for, because right now they are many!

First, we are thankful to live in a farm community that supports each other.  We've been working with a number of other local farms, including Harley Goat Farm, Blue House Farm, Flygirl Farm, 5th Crow Farm, Pie Ranch, Markegard Family Grassfed, and Fat Cabbage, plus, of course, Left Coast Grassfed.  It's a real blessing to feel connected to other farms and to develop a network of interdependence.  Farming is not a lifestyle that thrives on isolation--and we're lucky to have such great neighbors for shared sales opportunities,  "recycled" food streams for our pigs, companionship, inspiration, and baby-loving.  Here's a picture of our hens greatly appreciating some Blue House Farm greens!

Grandma helps Kevi clean a pumpkin!
Second, we are thankful for family, and all the support we've seen in the past several months.  Kevi has had a constant stream of grandparents, uncles, aunties, cousins, great-godmothers, great-aunts, and more visiting and helping out with the ranch (or with the baby, so we can work!).  My mom in particular impressed us with her ability to do a load of laundry, teach Kevi a new skill ("High Five!"), cook dinner, and vacuum our carpet all in the time it took us to do chores.  A special shout-out to Kevin's cousin/godmother Dede and her daughter Megan who joined us for turkey sales!

Third, we are thankful for the chance to raise our son on the farm.  Every day I'm struck by how even at this young age his life is shaped by our choice to be on the farm.  Already he is enamored with the animals and has shown a tremendous amount of patience, curiosity, and enthusiasm for this life.  He loves to simply watch the hens going about their business, and often we can calm his crying by taking him to the window and pointing out a rogue, escaped hen (about the only time I'm thankful for rogue hens, trust me!).  Here he is with possibly his favorite of the farm's animals, Gus--our half Pyrenees, quarter Akbash, quarter Anatolian puppy.  If you're not sure what that means, I feel all I need to say is that in this picture he's only 6 months old...

Last, we are thankful for the sense that the future is bright and open to us.  We look forward to a year of just being farmers--not starting a farm business, moving halfway through the season, or having a baby (although we'll keep the one we have!).  I'm so excited to see how great Early Bird Ranch can be next year when we focus our energy on streamlining and perfecting the business we have now.  Pigs and turkeys, I have plans for you, let me tell you!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Summer Growth

Now where did I leave off in our exciting saga?  I believe a little baby had joined the farm and we were just starting to get some eggs from our hens.  Well, I fear I’ll have to skip a few chapters because Kevi Jr. is now 3 months old, 16 pounds, and wearing clothes that are made for 6-9 month-olds, and our little batch of laying hens are producing 240-260 eggs each day!

It is a great time to be on the farm.  We are coming up on our 1-year anniversary of moving to TomKat Ranch and already we are maturing enterprises we weren’t expecting to even begin until our third or even our fifth year.  The pigs are thriving in their rapid rotations through the forest and this next batch we are processing is right now gorging themselves on the wild blackberries and strawberries that are ripening all over the place.

Our nascent egg business couldn’t be doing better too!  Our egg mobile is performing perfectly and this week we are installing the final components (solar powered automatic doors, bulk feed storage, and rain-capture tank) that will make it a breeze to rotate around the 2,000 acres of TomKat Ranch.  As it stands, the custom design appears to be just what this special terrain needs.  The wheel base sits approximately as wide as the structure is tall (6.5’) so it sits quite comfortably on even the most uncomfortably slanted hill.  The internal space is amazingly accommodating for the hens and even without accounting for the eucalyptus roost bars that span the whole structure, each hen is getting about 0.65 square feet of internal space in which to sleep.

As for outside space, these girls are given limitless paddocks.  That’s right, in order to let them do their job of gobbling up all the bugs they can find, we let them roam completely uninhibited.  The girls absolutely love it and every night dutifully return home to by sunset so we can close them in their house and move them to their next paddock in the morning.  It’s simply amazing!

Kevi Jr. is starting to use his voice more too, which brings us a great deal of entertainment and joy.  The squeals and half words are adorable, but we are most struck but how he mimics the rhythm of a conversation, waiting until we reply to say anything else.

It’s looking like 2012 will be quite a great year.  We’ll do our best to keep you all in the loop!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Happy Mother's Day

Another guest post from ShaeLynn...

My first Mother’s Day weekend as a mother has been very special, thanks to several surprises Kevin Sr (including a nostalgic breakfast, gorgeous roses, a copy of my favorite movie, and a series of photos showing my transition to being a mom). But I want to spend a little time talking about OUR mothers, in part because I think I appreciate them even more than I did before I was a mother myself, and in part because they’re just awesome!

Both moms (grandmas!) have come to stay with us and help out since Kevin Jr. was born.  My mom offered magnificent, unconditional support during my homebirth and for weeks afterward.  I was astonished that she completely put everything in her life on hold so that she could spend extra days helping us when my midwife recommended what amounted to bed rest for me.  She even let me bring the baby out at 5 in the morning so I could get a few hours of uninterrupted sleep, and diligently worked to learn the origami-like cloth diaper folds!

After 5 days on our own, Kevin’s mom came to stay for 10 days, and brought so much sunshine and energy into our home!  She cooked Kevin his favorite meals from his childhood, held the baby during every meal so I could eat without interruption (EVERY MEAL!), and added charming little design touches all over our farm, making it a happier place to work and live.

But beyond how much help these two remarkable women have been since we became parents, they both strongly influenced our willingness and confidence in starting our own business.   Kevin grew up with his mom’s small business—she was a professional muralist in Hawai’i, and a costume designer for one of the largest theaters on the islands.  As Kevin has said again and again seeing her bravery to forge out on her own to make her passion into her business gave him a great deal of strength and inspiration for starting Early Bird Ranch.  Similarly, every time she visits I see where Kevin gets his beloved extroversion and desire to truly know and befriend every customer.

My mother worked as a university pre-school teacher/director, overseeing a classroom that could serve as many as 60 families a year.  I grew up watching her design staffing charts, consider how to interact with challenging parents or student employees, and plan out and design intricate and fascinating lessons and activities on a slim budget.  From my mother I learned the importance of economy of time and money, and how important planning and organizing are to this goal.  Clearly these skills and priorities are priceless in a business where we strive to provide food at its least expensive real cost, and to make it affordable to as many families as possible.

My mom may not realize that she gave me my first real lesson on running a small business, but in part it’s memories like these that make me feel confident about my future goal to homeschool (I was not, but my mom would have been terrific at it!).  In my Junior year of high school, I joined the orchestra and made plans to travel to London for a music festival and a week of tourism.  The price tag attached to this trip was $1300.  It was not in my parents’ budget to just fork this over, and I think it would have done me a huge disservice had they done so.  Instead, mom and I sat down in September and considered how much money was in my savings account, how much I could responsibly invest in this trip, how much I could expect to add if I didn’t spend any birthday or Christmas money, and how much was left to raise.  Then, perhaps not realizing what an enormous undertaking this would become, she gamely suggested that we do a fundraiser—we had just perfected our family’s favorite apple pie, so why not make them as Thanksgiving take-and-bake pies for friends and family?  We went to the grocery store and scoped out the price of the competition, added up all the costs associated with the project (she donated her labor, as did I), and came up with a price that would get me closer to my goal.  She cajoled a family friend into letting us climb to the top of her 50 year old apple tree to collect fruit their family wouldn’t typically bother to get, and we increased our margins with free apples.  The week before Thanksgiving we made dozens of pies, which raised hundreds of dollars towards my trip, and if I recall correctly, mom eventually covered the costs of ingredients to get me even closer to my goal.  If Early Bird Ranch was going to make pies, this is exactly how we would do it.  And 8 years before I began my own business, my mother showed me how it was done.  No textbook could have prepared me better for grasping the fundamentals of running a small business!  Thank you, Mom!
Tutu, Grandma, and baby Kevin at 3 days old.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers out there investing the kind of time and love that our mothers invested in us.  You deserve the recognition and adoration of your families and communities for the work that you do, and I hope to one day count myself in your ranks!